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The short fragment reprinted in this booklet, one of the most famous passages from Bakunin’s pen, is a widely quoted excerpt from his best-known essay, God and the State, which was itself an excerpt, written as Part II of a much longer planned book, to be entitled The Knouto-Germanic Empire. The incomplete manuscript was discovered in Bakunin’s papers after his death, by his close friends and fellow anarchists Carlo Cafiero and Élisée Reclus, who translated the text into French and published what they could in 1882. English translations were later circulated by Anarchist publishers in the U.S. and England, including Benjamin Tucker, Henry Seymour and Emma Goldman.
“It is the characteristic of privilege and of every privileged position to kill the mind and heart of men. The privileged man, whether practically or economically, is a man depraved in mind and heart. That is a social law which admits of no exception, and is as applicable to entire nations as to classes, corporations and individuals. It is the law of equality, the supreme condition of liberty and humanity. . . . Consequently, no external legislation and no authority — one, for that matter, being inseparable from the other, and both tending to the servitude of society and the degradation of the legislators themselves. . . .”
“Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmakers; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or the engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure. But I recognise no infallible authority; I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others. . . .”
Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin (1814–1876) was a Russian-born anarchist revolutionary, speaker, traveler and philosopher. Born into a noble family in Pryamukhino, he was later stripped of his titles, imprisoned, condemned at different times to death, to life imprisonment, to hard labor, and exiled from France, Prussia, Saxony, Austria, Russia, and the First International for his radical speeches and revolutionary activities. One of the founders of collectivist anarchism, a leading theorist of libertarian socialism, a friend and student of Proudhon, an enemy of Marx and a fierce critic of authoritarian socialism, Bakunin was involved in revolutionary uprisings in Paris, Prague, Leipzig, Dresden, and Lyon. An enormous influence on radicals throughout Russia, Europe, and the Americas, he and his comrades in the anarchist faction of the International Working Men’s Association (1868–1872) are often credited as the principle founders of the social anarchist movement. Although constantly writing fiery pamphlets, letters, short works and radical journals, Bakunin never completed his ambitious plans for longer works on Anarchist philosophy, often remarking to his friends, “My life is but a fragment.”